iPhone PCM Recorder

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Intro from Jeff Towne: The devices we commonly think of as mobile phones may be more frequently used to browse the web, or to take pictures, or to give directions, than to make actual phone calls. A smartphone running the right app can be a pretty decent audio recorder, too. Although the constraints of battery life and available memory can limit a smartphone’s practicality in the field, there’s still a lot to like about being able to make good recordings on a device that you always have with you. Rob Rosenthal, lead instructor of the Transom Story Workshop, likes the free Tascam PCM Recorder app for the iPhone, and gives us an overview of how it works.

TASCAM PCM Recorder is a free stereo recorder for iOS devices. It supports up to 12 hours of recording, using the built-in microphone or connected USB devices like the TASCAM iM2X stereo microphone. EQ, limiting, Soundcloud support and more make this a full-featured professional recorder.

Here’s how to use the App to make recordings on an iPhone…

Make sure your iPhone has enough recording space

  1. Before you leave for your interview, plug your phone into your computer.
  2. Launch iTunes.
  3. Click on your phone’s name in the left Sidebar.

A screen displays your phone’s info. At the bottom is a rainbow-­colored bar showing how much memory you are using, and for what kind of files (Audio, Photos, etc.). On the right it shows how much free, unused space is left on your iPhone/iPad. Make sure you have enough free space for at least a one-hour interview. Your device’s Settings app also displays available disk-space (General> About).

Audio-files require 10MB for every minute recorded in stereo (half that for mono: 5MB/min.). This app always records 44.1K 16 Bit WAV files, so for stereo recordings you’ll need:

  1. 10MB a minute.
  2. 500MB for 50 minutes
  3. 1GB (1000MB) for 100 minutes.

iTunes: free memory space indicater

Recording

  1. Go to Settings on your iPhone and set Airplane mode to on. (This is good practice for all iPhone recording. It stops calls from coming in and disrupting your recording.)
  2. Connect headphones to the recorder. Always wear headphones!
  3. Launch the app — you’re now in the Main Window (pictured to the right).

To change Stereo/Mono or Limiter On/Off tap the gear icon (lower left button) to switch to the Settings Window (pictured above). Make settings adjustments then return (again, gear icon) to the Main Window.

Press the red record button on the right just under the meter screen. This puts the app in Record Pause. You should now hear sound in your headphones.

Tascam PCM Recorder App: record meter and controls

Main Window

Adjust the recording level

  1. Turn the microphone at the bottom of the phone (the opposite end from where you connect headphones) toward the source of the sound. If it’s an interviewee, you’ll be turning the phone upside down and toward them. Note that the App flips and is right side up.
  2. Place your mic/phone close to the person speaking — 3–5 inches below their chin, and just to the side at a 30–45 degree angle.
  3. Use the slider that runs across the top of the App’s screen (to the left of the mic symbol) to change the record volume. Just press a finger and move back and forth to adjust levels.
    • Watch the VU meter on the screen. It should be bouncing, on average, around the black triangle — about 3/4s of the way up the meter, to around -12dB or -10dB, like the picture to the right.
    • You can also adjust levels by moving the mic/phone closer or further away.
  4. Adjust your headphone volume with the slider on the bottom of the screen (the buttons on the side of the phone also control headphone volume). Adjusting the headphone level does not adjust the record level.

Begin recording: Press the record or play button (the button with the green triangle).

Stop recording: Press the stop button, the one with the square.

Listen to Files

  1. Press the Files button in the bottom right corner to switch to the Files Window.
  2. From the menu, press once on the file you wish to listen to.
  3. Press the Load button at the bottom left corner. This will return you to the recorder screen.
  4. Press play.
  5. To skip to the next file without having to go back to the file menu, press the track reverse or forward button (looks like: >>| and |<<).
Tascam PCM Recorder App: sound-files

Files Window

Download Files

  1. Connect your phone to your computer.
  2. Open iTunes.
  3. Select the name of your phone in the Sidebar.
  4. Across the top of the iTunes window, click Apps.
  5. Scroll down until you see the window labeled “File Sharing.” In that window, you should see a list of apps that share files from the phone to the computer. Look for PCMRecorder.
  6. Click the icon. A list of the files you’ve made in PCMRecorder will display on the right hand side.
  7. Highlight the files you want to download. To download only one, click once on the name of that file. To download more than one at a time, click on one, then hold down the Command key and click on any of the other files, one at a time.
  8. In the bottom right of the file window, click “Save to…”.
  9. In the window that pops up, select the location where you’d like to save the files.
  10. Once you’ve downloaded the file, rename it with a meaningful filename, for instance using the name of the interview and date of interview “Lastname-Firstname-YYYY-MM-DD.wav”.

Sharing Files via Soundcloud

  1. Press Sharing.
  2. Press Log In and enter your Soundcloud account information (you must have an existing Soundcloud account).
  3. Select a file from the list, then press Upload.

For details about the many other things this app does, be sure to refer to the Tascam’s PCM Recorder User Guide.

Tascam PCM Recorder App: sound-files in iTunes

The Transom Online Workshop, with support from the Knight Prototype Fund, helped publish this article.

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  • kd

    9.13.13

    Reply

    This is great! Will it record phone calls too, or this is just for in-person interviews?

    • Jeff Towne

      9.14.13

      Reply

      Sorry, no, it will NOT record phone calls, this is just for recording face-to-face. It sure would be handy to have something that would record phone calls, but I’m guessing privacy issues are preventing that from being implemented.

  • Adam Vaughn

    9.16.13

    Reply

    Is there any way to use headphones and plug in a mic at the same time? I’d like to use something better than the iPhone mic.

  • Rob Rosenthal

    9.25.13

    Reply

    Nathaniel — Please report back your experience with that cable. Thanks! — Rob

  • D. Brent Miller

    10.01.13

    Reply

    It does not appear there is an Android version of this. Is one expected? Lately, I have been using my Samsung phone to record ambient sound with some success using an app called PCM recorder. It is pretty basic.

  • Rob Rosenthal

    10.01.13

    Reply

    Hi Brent – I just looked at the Tascam site. It says this:

    “Q: Will there be an Android version? Windows Phone? Etc?

    A: We don’t have any plans for those at this time.”

    I couldn’t find a date as to when that was posted.

    Here’s the link: http://tascam.com/product/pcmrecorder/getting_started/

    r

    • D. Brent Miller

      10.01.13

      Reply

      Thanks. I looked before and did not see that Q&A.

  • Casey

    10.03.13

    Reply

    How does the audio quality of an iPhone recording with the TASCAM iM2 stereo microphone compare to regular, reasonably priced recorders such as the Roland RO5? And is the iM2 the best microphone that can be paired with an iPhone, or is there another option that will give you more professional-quality sound?

  • Rob Rosenthal

    10.03.13

    Reply

    Hi Casey — I’m afraid I don’t know. This article about the PCM Recorder App from Tascam is merely about the App itself, not all of the different mics that can plug into an iPhone. Perhaps Jeff Towne or someone else with some knowledge of the variety of iPhone mics will be able to answer. Or, if you happen to have a chance to test the mic, please let us know what you find out. Best, Rob

    • Casey

      10.03.13

      Reply

      Thanks Rob.

  • Chandramouli Basu

    10.21.13

    Reply

    Does it record 10 bit audio?

  • Rob Rosenthal

    10.21.13

    Reply

    Hi Chandramouli — Not that I’m aware of. What recorder does record in 10-bit? Why would you want to? The standard is 16-bit. Sometimes people will record at 24-bit. While I’ve seen 8-bit as an option, I don’t think I’ve ever seen 10-bit. Thoughts? Best, Rob

    • Chandramouli Basu

      10.21.13

      Reply

      Thanks for this Rob! That was a typo. I meant 16 bits. This is a great discovery for me… Saves me the bother of buying another device like the Zoom.

      I shoot with a 5D mk III and this will allow me to get broadcast quality sound.

  • Mike Miller

    10.24.13

    Reply

    I’m a public radio producer, and I’ve been trying out all sorts of iOs recording apps. I wouldn’t recommend the Tascam PCM app.

    It might have improved since I last used it (a year or so ago)–but it used to give me lots of trouble. About a third of the time, audio recorded with the app would have minor or major glitches; sometimes the recording was so garbled that it was unfit for broadcast. (I was actually using it with Tascam hardware, too–the im2 stereo microphone that plugs into my iPod touch.)

    I’ve now settled on using the TwistedWave app. It’s ten bucks and it’s worth every penny. It’s a rock-solid app that has never stopped unexpectedly in the middle or recording, and it’s never given me garbled or static-filled audio.

    I suspect that’s because it records in Core Audio format:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Core_Audio_Format

    Core Audio seems more “stable” than .wav is when recording in iOs, likely because it was developed by Apple. (Of course, TwistedWave will convert recordings to standard .wav format for editing/broadcast. And the app allows you to get files off the iOs device in all sorts of handy ways.)

    So to summarize–my setup is a Tascam im2 mic plugged into an iPod touch, and recording with TwistedWave. I love it!

    In terms of sound quality, I’ve recorded some interviews using this setup, and many other interviews using a Marantz PMD 660 & an AT shotgun mic–and the sound quality of both setups is equally good. The shotgun mic works well for picking up voices in noisy settings, but in a quiet environment such as an office, the im2 (assuming you use proper mic placement) is just as good as the Marantz.

    • Josh

      1.09.14

      Reply

      Will this app work for the audio while recording a video on the phone?

  • PK Ash

    11.12.13

    Reply

    @Adam (16 September)

    I have a MicW 266 omni and a Rode SmartLav lavalier which I use with an iPhone5. Both mics plug into the headphone jack but the MicW comes with an adapter that allows headphone monitoring while recording. Both are great mics.

    I use Hindenburg’s $29 Field Recorder iOS app, reviewed elsewhere on Transom, and it is very good indeed.

    But for day-to-day field work I still prefer to fire up the HHB Flashmic. When I listen to the tape later, I am always thankful I did. Knocks the socks off the iPhone 😉

  • Skip Hunt (@skiphunt)

    11.22.13

    Reply

    I’ve never had any problems with the Tascam app, but prefer the Multi-track DAW app and have recently been playing with the Hindenburg Field Recorder, which I also like (allows for easy marking).

    Recently picked up the iRig PRE device that provides 48v phantom power to an XLR jack with a built-in headphone jack for monitoring. Works surprisingly well and it has a gain dial too. Using it with a ME66 and so far, pleased with the results. Much cleaner than expected for $34. 🙂

  • Jin Wei

    11.27.13

    Reply

    Can it also record audio from headphones too?

    • Skip Hunt (@skiphunt)

      12.01.13

      Reply

      You could but the signal coming through the headphone jack is coming from the headphone output of the device you’re connected to. You couldn’t just connect a mic to the iRig and monitor/record via the headphone jack sans a device to connect it to that generating a headphone signal.

  • Stephanie H

    12.08.13

    Reply

    Looks like the Tascam im2 has been discontinued…do you have another favorite? Thanks! This thread is very helpful.

  • Len Sipes

    12.19.13

    Reply

    Hi: Does it work with the iPod Touch? Len.

  • Tim

    12.23.13

    Reply

    A word of warning: I’ve been using this on the iphone 4s on IOS6 and now IOS7- and it’s wreaked havoc with the audio playback function on my iphone. Even when the mike is disconnected, the iphone’s internal speakers remain muted permanently (although phone ringtones still work).

    Even after deleting hte app and restoring, the problem remains.

  • Liz

    3.04.14

    Reply

    Hi, I’m working with a college student to keep a radio dairy in Mexico. The files will be used in a public radio story, so they need to be broadcast quality. The student is only willing to use something compact and simple – so no external mics. This gear may be on my dime, so it’s got to be $200 or less. My cheapest option is to send him an iPhone 4 that we no longer use, but not sure the quality is good enough. Also considering the Sony PCM M10, Zoom H2 and Olympus LS10. Any advice on a clear winner? Other ideas? Thank you!!

    • Rob Rosenthal

      3.04.14

      Reply

      Hi Liz, Why is the student so adamant about using a recorder without an external microphone? To my mind, they risk compromising the project if they don’t use one. I say that because the built in mics on the Sony, Zoom, and Olympus are very prone to mic handling noise and wind. Indeed, it may be — and this is just speculation — that the iPhone might be less prone to those problems especially if it’s in something like an Otter case. I’ve never tested that and done a comparison but maybe you could. Of course, the mic on an iPhone isn’t the greatest and if most of the project is going to be recorded on an iPhone for broadcast, that may not be the way to go. Producers tend to use the iPhone in a pinch not as their primary recorder. Also, I hope they’re planning to wear headphones. Best, Rob

  • Paul

    3.06.14

    Reply

    I used my iPhone for a quick and dirty recording in Tanzania and didn’t bother with the Rode lavalier. Have to say the quality was *good enough*, even down to capturing nice background colour in the form of birdsong and creaking bamboo, but then my show’s sound is already compromised by going out on a streaming web feed …

    Wind, plosives and handling noise are a problem with the iPhone. Perhaps the student could be convinced to at least use an external mic running through a Vericorder XLR-to-iPhone cable and preamp.

    And, yes, headphones are VITAL!

  • Lynn “Kip” Kippax

    3.25.14

    Reply

    I wanted to download the app and found this:

    This model has been discontinued.

    This application is no longer available on the App Store. TASCAM is in the process of creating a new version which supports iOS6 and iOS 7. The new version will be available soon.

  • Emanuele

    4.05.14

    Reply

    I understand you’re developing a new version of the software, but why not leaving the old one in the app store? I bought the iXY2 and now I can’t use it!!! Please TASCAM give me a workaround to use your product

    • Ayinde

      4.14.14

      Reply

      you bought an iXY and don’t have $6 left for RODE Rec?

  • Lacko

    4.15.14

    Reply

    I’ve just got a Zoom IQ5 on my birthday. Brilliant stuff! It does M/S wav’s and a lot more, works with video recordings as well. It was a long way from H2, H4, H4n, however I find it brilliant.

    http://www.zoom.co.jp/products/iq5

  • Paul Spencer

    7.23.14

    Reply

    Is there a way to avoid Soundcloud? I would like to email the recording and SC makes that impossible.

    • kathleenmundel

      7.23.14

      Reply

      Paul – It appears that Soundcloud is the only option. However, I’ve heard through the grapevine that Tascam may be re-vamping that app. Perhaps a new version will have other options. — rob

  • John

    11.12.14

    Reply

    Any suggestions for an appropriate microphone to use with any of these recorder apps? Some time ago I downloaded Hindenburg and like it very much. Are the lavaliere microphones good for this? How about a microphone that will record in an interview from about two feet away?

  • casey

    6.22.15

    Reply

    question: I am trying to mix-down from an analog 4track recorder (tascam MkII portastudio) and want to record the mix onto a handheld digital device in the best fidelity I can for archiving my home recordings and playback on CD.

    Any suggestions of an app that will allow me to do this using my iPhone7?

  • Zafiris

    12.08.15

    Reply

    Hi, can I use it to record a live concert where the bass can be really strong? I mean, will the result be pleasant to hear?

  • Rob Rosenthal

    12.08.15

    Reply

    Zafris — The issue isn’t the app, it’s the mic and the recorder. The only time I’d record a concert with a phone is if I had no other choice. — rob

  • Ignacio

    12.26.15

    Reply

    Have a question!! What could be the difference between the firts PCM version and the MKII? Both open on my Iphone5S amd record.

  • Benjamin Childs

    9.09.16

    Reply

    Thank you for this review. For a novice, would you recommend stepping up to buy something like the DR-70 you just reviewed, or just getting out there and using your phone?

  • Rob Rosenthal

    9.09.16

    Reply

    Benjamin — The most important thing to do when starting out is to just make something. Don’t worry about the gear. Make stuff. If all you have right now is a phone, use it! 🙂 That said, most producers only use a phone in a pinch. Recording gear is better for a lots of reasons. The DR70 is great. So is the Tascam DR100 MKii. And the Sony M10.

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